The Joelma fire occurred on Friday February 1, 1974, in the Joelma Building, a 25-story building situated in downtown São Paulo, at 225 Avenue Nine of July. It is one of the most notable tragedies to have occurred in Brazil.
A short-circuit in a faulty air-conditioner on the 11th floor ignited the fire at 8:50 AM. The building was primarily occupied by a single banking company, Banco Crefisul S/A, of which 756 employees were present. A person in an adjacent building reported the fire and first fire personnel arrived on the scene at 9:10 AM. Assistance was requested and further units arrived at 9:30 AM, by which time flames were nearly to the roof of the building. The large amount of combustible materials, including paper, plastics, electrical equipment and wooden walls and furniture, contributed to the fire spreading rapidly. Most importantly, the building had no emergency exits, fire alarms or fire sprinkler systems installed.
Initial efforts led to the successful evacuation of some 300 employees before the heat and smoke became too overwhelming. Many remaining employees climbed onto balconies for air and a group of 171 individuals fled to the roof. A helicopter rescue was attempted but the heat, smoke and inadequate landing space prevented helicopters from reaching the roof until well after the fire had burned out at 10:30 AM. Despite the best efforts of rescue personnel and witnesses, who shouted and created signs instructing people to remain calm, 40 individuals jumped to escape the conditions inside and in failed attempts to grasp unreachable fire ladders. None of these jumpers survived.
Thirteen people who tried to escape the fire using one of the elevators of the Joelma Building died of suffocation and had their bodies burnt by the fire. They were never identified. They are buried in anonymous graves at the Vila Alpina Cemetery.
It was the second serious fire in São Paulo in less than two years. The first took place in 1972 in the Andraus Building, also in downtown São Paulo, killing 16 people. After the Joelma fire, the legislation concerning the fire prevention codes in all of Brazil was updated.
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